By Daragh Ó Conchúir, at Croke Park
Galway camogie supporters have never known a period of glory like this, recording their sixth successive competitive victory over Cork in yesterday’s Very Camogie League Division 1A final on a 2-13 to 1-12 scoreline but much more importantly, claiming a fifth national title since Cathal Murray took over as manager just before the championship in 2018.
The League was the springboard to a coveted All-Ireland triumph in 2019 and has been treated with utmost seriousness by the Tribeswomen since Murray took over the reins.
That they were retaining their title and in the process, claiming a third in five seasons is illustration of that, but so too is the number of players who have established themselves in recent years during the Spring, when a variety of players were unavailable.
Never have they had to make as many changes as this year, however, but Murray has as much disdain for the word ‘transition’ as he has respect for the League. The integration of the intermediate squad with the seniors is critical in his view, ensuring that players are always ready to step into the fold.
“I hate the word transition to be honest with you,” said Murray, after goals from Carrie Dolan and Sabina Rabbitte helped his side pull through.
“We are very proud of the way we work it with the intermediates. Of the 18 that played down in Cork (in the final round of the group stages, where Galway had to win to reach the final), there was 10 that had come up through the intermediate in ‘19, ‘20, ‘21 or 22. A lot of the intermediate training has been done with the seniors the last few years. They are ready for senior hurling. A lot of last year’s intermediate group, we knew they were going to make senior hurlers. It was just a case of when they got up.
“We target the League. I can’t understand these people that say they are not targeting the League. We have two competitions and you want to win both. Last year we won the League but didn’t get to the All-Ireland final, I hope we learn from that. It is a big step up to championship.
“Today was more about grinding it out. I don’t think we were ever at the pitch of it in the first half and we were happy to go in two down at half-time because Cork had done the majority of the hurling. We struggled in a lot of places just to keep tabs on them. They showed huge character in the second half, we improved on an awful lot of stuff, and delivery into the forwards improved an awful lot, as well.
“Sabina’s goal was a huge tonic. It gave girls a lot of confidence. Sometimes with a younger team, you need that, as well.”
It was a fantastic finish from the young Athenry star, and with Cork shooting bad wides from low percentage shots and not able to find the net from their opportunities, with Fiona Ryan making one smart save, it was a key moment.
So too was the contribution of Dolan, who continued her excellence throughout the competition with a concluding tally of 1-8, while Aoife Donohue hit three classy points while Shauna Healy, Róisin Black and the immovable Dervla Higgins buttressed a scintillating defensive effort.
Cork’s best operators were in the rearguard too but they couldn’t get enough return from the chances they created, despite Orlaith Cahalane hitting a third minute goal. That means it’s a fourth successive national final defeat and manager Matthew Twomey made no attempt to hide the deflation, though he promised that the Rebels would bounce back.
“Our shooting was off today,” Twomey admitted. “Was it Orlaith who hit it off the bottom of the post (in the second half)? If that went in, it was a different story. We thought we had a foul went against us and then they went up and got a goal.
“They’re the breaks but we seem to be always on the receiving end of them. It’s tough. That’s our fourth final now in a row. It’s not easy.
“They’re after working so hard. We put in a great League campaign. We were very happy coming into the game today. At half-time, we were very happy (leading by 1-8 to 1-6). But we just went astray. Can’t put the finger on it now. We have to analyse it. It’s a bit raw now to be coming up with any great messages.
“We’re certainly not going to die down. We’ll feel sorry for ourselves today but we’re not going to die down. We’ve too much to play for and too much pride in what we do. These girls are incredible. They’re infectious to be around. We’ll regroup.
“Ten wides…yeah. Killer,” he accepted. “We had a few goal chances that we should be taking but we didn’t. They probably had two opportunities and they scored the two of them. That’s the difference there.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. There’s no two ways about it. But you can’t do that against any team, let alone Galway.”